- Game One: Justin Masterson vs. R.A. Dickey
Masterson finds himself in a near-identical situation from a year ago. He opened the season for the Tribe in 2012 in Cleveland against the Blue Jays, striking out 10 and giving up only two hits including a homer to Jose Bautista. If not for a blown save by Chris Perez he would have had his first win of the season. I’m convinced this impacted his whole season, and otherwise he would have won a Cy Young. Or maybe not, but I still think this was a blow to his confidence. He looked pretty good all spring despite the 4.76 ERA, striking out 26 in 22.2 innings and only walking six. If he can keep those walks down Justin will be back to the the dominant Jamaican we all fell in love with in 2011.
This will be R.A. Dickey’s first tour in the American League, and everyone should be excited. After all, there can only ever be one knuckleballer, and with the departure of Tim Wakefield some years back Dickey has taken that mantle with pride. He was dominant last year, with the ability to throw two different knucklers at different speeds as well as the ability to actually pitch when it’s not dancing—he’s a perfect storm. Nick Swisher has homered off Dickey and Michael Bourn has a .321 batting average in 28 at-bats against him, but that’s the only exposure they’ve had. So if the knuckler is dancing, we shouldn’t expect a pretty day, and the way their catcher J.P. Arencibia imitated a brick wall en route to saving this game for them last season (something like three could-be wild pitches could have allowed the go ahead run, but he stopped them), that could play a big role. If nothing else, the pitching only gets easier from here. Until Verlander.
Ubaldo Jimenez’ 2012 season was horrible for everyone. For Ubaldo having to get blasted time and again and suffer ridicule from fans, for Brian and me writing previews about him, and for Indians fans having to watch his starts. But it’s a new year, so lets move on. Jimenez was horrid last year, overly herky-jerky in his motion, indecisive, confusing in his pitch progressions, just plain bad really. Perhaps the changes in pitching coaches affected him, perhaps he was just never comfortable, perhaps he and Shin-Soo Choo had a feud over what kind of hot sauce should be in the clubhouse, Sriracha or Tabasco (the answer is both, and anyway Choo is gone now). Spring certainly hasn’t bolstered confidence with 16 earned runs in 30 innings with 22 strikeouts, but he’s at least looked smoother and more confident on the mound. Let’s just all take a wait-and-see approach here. I have little doubt the teeth-gnashing will begin by late April, but hey, hope and stuff.
The 2012 season saw Brandon Morrow emerge as Toronto’s best starter. Though he lasted onky 124.2 innings before being felled by one of the Jays’ many injuries he was pretty great, notching a 2.96 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and a 1.12 WHIP. If not for the arrival of Dickey and Johnson’s struggles, he’d be the ace of this staff. His long term health is what the Jays care about, but the Indians care about his mid-90’s fastball and knee-buckling curve. In five starts against Cleveland, Morrow holds a 4.30 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP.
- Game Three: Brett Myers vs. Mark Buehrle
What can you say about Brett Myers? He’s not going to blow anyone away, and according to Baseball-Reference one of the closest comparisons to him is Jake Westbrook. He strikes out 7.3 per nine in his career with a 1.33 WHIP, so even if people were questioning giving him $8 million, the 11-year veteran at the very least gives a known commodity in the middle of the rotation. If I had my druthers and could control how the world worked, he’d be in the back of the rotation, Scott Kazmir sitting in above him. We’ll see how that goes, but Myers is a decent pitcher, basically league average with a 101 ERA+. With him and the guy starting opposite Myers, it will be a good matchup. He’s pitched 11.1 innings against the Blue Jays in his career, so don’t ask me to divine anything from that.
When Mark Buehrle signed with the Marlins after the 2011 season I was quite excited. After all, in his time with the Chicago White Sox he seemed to just destroy the Indians, and though I respect his abilities on the field I thought he couldn’t leave fast enough (the numbers don’t support my feelings, he had a 4.77 ERA in 46 starts against the Tribe, but any Indians fan agrees with me).But now, because the universe is either indifferent or just plain rude, he’s back, and he’s bound to do work again. Anyone in Miami who thought they were getting a shutdown ace out of Mark is an idiot, but he’s damn good, giving 200 innings and a great chance every time out for his team to win. Being labeled a “competitor” sometimes has a negative connotation in baseball, some think it’s a euphemism for lacking skill. Mark has that skill but he’s got heart for days, and that’s why I fear him.
The Indians aren’t slated to really contend this season, but just look what happened in Oakland and Baltimore in 2012, and you know how much water preseason predictions hold. The Jays are going to be a strong opponent to start the season, but it’ll be a good look to see where the Indians stand early. Let’s not get worked up over the first series, but at the same time, get hyped. It’s baseball season, and if you’re not excited, well, maybe you’re just a very calm, level-headed person. Or dead.